What leads families to choose fast food for family meals


What’s on the dinner table varies widely from family to family. A new poll offers insight into what factors lead some of those meals to be fast food.

In an ideal world, everyone would eat well-balanced, home cooked meals packed with nutrients, but in reality, fast food and convenience meals are a fact of life for many people. A new poll from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, asked 2019 parents about their family’s eating habits and examined how those habits varied in conjunction with the perception of their child’s.1

When it came to how parents viewed whether their children were of normal weight, underweight or overweight, the vast majority of parents indicated that they believed their child was the right weight, but 13% felt their child was overweight and 10% thought their child was underweight. Lower income parents were more likely than higher income parents to say their child was overweight (21% vs 10%).

In terms of what kind of food caregivers and children ate, the pandemic led to major changes in the daily diet of the family and where the food came from. Half of the parents stated that their families had been eating more home cooked meals since the start, whereas 1 in 5 said that fast food meals had become a more regular meal option. Parents who said their child was overweight were more likely to increase fast food meals than the parents with children who were the right weight (28% vs 18%). When stressed for time, 72% of the parents agreed that fast good was a good option. Furthermore, 1 in 3 think that fast food provides good value for money and nearly a quarter of parents believe that it’s less expensive than cooking meal in the home.

Nearly all parents agree that fast food is unhealthy for children, but a roughly equal number of parents believe that it’s okay in moderation. When children do get fast food, 88% of the parents allow them to choose their meals and only 33% of parents read the nutritional information. Some parent did try to steer their child to healthier options (67%) and to reduce the number of unhealthy options like french fries (59%). Parents who think their child is overweight were more likely to say that their child had soda with their fast food than those who felt their child was the right weight.

Over the past few months, 66% of parents said that family meals had been healthier than they had been previously and 20% said that their child had at least 2 fast food meals a week. When asked what prevented parents from making home cooked meals, being too busy to cook (43%) and too much stress (22%) were the 2 top reasons. Moreover, those barriers were more commonly reported in parents who had an overweight child.

Clinicians should ask questions about family meals during visits. To help families that may be experiencing financial hardships and who may struggle to easily get to the grocery store, pediatric providers should be aware of programs in their area that can help families. If the parent indicates lacking the time to cook meals, pediatricians should use the time as family time, allowing younger children to help with preparation and encourage older children to experiment or even prepare a whole meal on their own.


1. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Parent views on fast food and family meals. 2020;39(2). Published September 20, 2021. Accessed September 20, 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/parent-views-fast-food-and-family-meals

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